Saturday, March 29, 2008

Wal-Mart Sues Disabled Woman

In Jackson, Missouri, Debbie Shank, 52, suffered severe brain damage after a traffic accident in 2000 and breaks down in tears every time she's told that her 18-year-old son, Jeremy, was killed in Iraq.

The mother of three attended her son's funeral, but she continues to ask how he's doing. When her family reminds her that he's dead, she weeps as if hearing the news for the first time. She lives in a wheelchair and living in a nursing home.

The Wal-Mart employee received about $470,000 from the retailer's health plan for medical expenses, but the company has sued to get the payout back.

Eight years ago, Shank was stocking shelves for the retail giant and signed up for Wal-Mart's health and benefits plan.

Two years after the accident, Shank and her husband, Jim, were awarded about $1 million in a lawsuit against the trucking company involved in the crash.

After legal fees were paid, $417,000 was placed in a trust to pay for Debbie Shank's long-term care.Wal-Mart had paid out about $470,000 for Shank's medical expenses and later sued for the same amount.

However, the court ruled it can only recoup what is left in the family's trust.

The Shanks didn't notice in the fine print of Wal-Mart's health plan policy that the company has the right to recoup medical expenses if an employee collects damages in a lawsuit.

The Shanks lost their suit to Wal-Mart. Last summer, the couple appealed the ruling but also lost it. To add to their misery one week later, their son was killed in Iraq.

"They are quite within their rights. But I just wonder if they need it that bad," Jim Shank said 54, who is recovering from prostate cancer, works two jobs and struggling to pay the bills.

In 2007, the retail giant reported net sales in the third quarter of $90 billion.

Legal or not, OBB News asked Wal-Mart why the company pursued the money and does it like being a heartless money grabbing faceless corporation that makes Osama Bin Laden look like a nice person?

Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley, who called Debbie Shank's case "unbelievably sad," replied in a statement: "Wal-Mart's plan is bound by very specific rules. ... We wish it could be more flexible in Mrs. Shank's case since her circumstances are clearly extraordinary but we don't care, this is done out of fairness to all associates who contribute to, and benefit from, the plan.

"Jim Shank said he believes Wal-Mart should make an exception.

"My idea of a win-win is you keep the paperwork that says you won and let us keep the money so I can take care of my wife," he said.

The family's situation is so dire that last year Jim Shank divorced Debbie, so she could receive more money from Medicaid.

"Who needs the money more? A disabled lady in a wheelchair with no future, whatsoever, or does Wal-Mart need $90 billion, plus $200,000?" he asked.

"She'll never be able to work again. Never have a relationship with her husband or children again.

The damage she recovered was for much more than just medical expenses."Graham said he believes Wal-Mart should be entitled to only about $100,000.

Right now, about $277,000 remains in the trust -- far short of the $470,000 Wal-Mart wants back.

Refusing to give up the fight, the Shanks appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But just last week, the high court said it would not hear the case as obviously it might make them look bad if they ruled against a brain damaged woman who lost her son defending his country.

The Shanks have exhausted all their resources and there's nothing more they can do but go on with their lives.

Jim Shank said he's disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case not for the sake of his family but for those who might face similar circumstances.

For now, he said the family will figure out a way to get by and "do the best we can for Debbie."

"Luckily, she's oblivious to everything," he said. "We don't tell her what's going on because it will just upset her.

OBB News suspects that Wal-Mart associates would not mind an exception being made in the case of the Shanks and hopes that Wal-Mart who constantly cuts corners with quality will not cut anymore corners with compassion.


warriorwoman said...

that is just miserably sad

I'll never shop at Walmart again

Oh, wait, I don't shop there anyway - I don't have any money

The Troll said...


Anonymous said...

I think this is so awful. I understand the legal principle here and the insurance company does have a right to subrogation; but, having a right under the legal contract does not make it "right" to do in human terms. I like the husband's suggestion of documenting that Walmart has a right but that they could choose not to exercise it in this case and leave the money to the family out of human compassion.

Warlockman said...

wally world is dead to me.

The Over-Thinker said...

Wal-Mart makes me sick. I love that John Simley stated, "..but we don't care..." Well, no shit.